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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

MEN  OF  MATHEMATICS
ton's great invention as a mere detail, although a highly
important one.
In line with Hamilton's quaternions the numerous brands of
vector analysis favoured by physicists of the past two genera-
tions sprang into being. To-day all of these, including quater-
nions, so far as physical applications are concerned, are being
swept a=ide by the incomparably simpler and more general
tensor analysis which came into vogue with general relativity in
1915. Something \nll be said about this later.
In the meantime it is sufficient to remark that Hamilton's
deepest tragedy was neither alcohol nor marriage but Ms
obstinate belief that quaternions held the ke$T to the mathe-
matics of the physical universe. History has shown that
Hamilton tragically deceived himself when he insisted v ... I
atill must assert that this discovery appears to me to be as
important for the middle of the nineteenth century as the dis-
covery of fluxions [the calculus] was for the close of the seven-
teenth." Never was a great mathematician so hopelessly wrong.
The last twenty-two years of Hamilton's life were devoted
almost exclusively to the elaboration of quaternions, including
their application to dynamics, astronomy, and the wave theory
of light, and his voluminous correspondence. The style of the
overdeveloped Elements of Quaternions, published the year after
Hamilton's death, shows plainly the effects of the author's
mode of life. After his death from gout on 2 September 1865 in
the sixty-first year of his age, it was found that Hamilton had
left behind a mass of papers in indescribable confusion and
about sixty huge manuscript books full of mathematics. An
adequate edition of his works is now in progress. The state of
his papers testified to the domestic difficulties under which the
last third of his life had been lived: innumerable dinner plates
with the remains of desiccated, unviolated chops were found
buried in the mountainous piles of papers, and dishes enough
to supply a large household were dug out from the confusion.
During his last period Hamilton lived as a recluse, ignoring the
meals shoved at him as he worked, obsessed by the dream that
the last tremendous effort of his magnificent genius would
immortalize both himself and his beloved Ireland, and stand
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